How to Train a Puppy to Heel

How to Train a Puppy to Heel
Easy difficulty iconEasy
Time icon2-6 Weeks
General training category iconGeneral

Introduction

The day has finally come to take your puppy on her first walk in the outside world. The sun is shining and you’re both excited – this is about to be a walk to remember. But as soon as Fizzy is out the door, it’s a battle to get her to walk by your side. She is pulling on the leash making it seem like she’s taking you for a walk, rather than the other way around! This is not the walk you envisaged. 

If she is still pulling as an adult, this could lead to a dangerous situation which could injure both you and your little rascal. You need to teach her how to heel, both for your safety and enjoyment. 

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Defining Tasks

The ‘heel’ command in itself is pretty effective. Puppies respond well to commands with short, sharp, easily recognizable tones. It’s a tried and tested prompt that many dog owners use to mean ‘come back and walk by my side’.

It may seem like a difficult task is ahead of you. Puppies are often very excitable and will be especially riled up by all the new sounds, sights and smells they will be experiencing. But puppies are also quick to learn, so the best time to approach this type of behavioral training is now! It could take a matter of days if implemented right from her first walk. But it’s more likely that a couple of weeks may be necessary to make it an ingrained behavior. Remember, consistency is key! So don’t give up too early, and make sure you maintain your response even after the training is complete. 

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Getting Started

The first thing you will need to get your puppy to heel is some treats. These act as a reward for positive behavior, thereby encouraging it. You may also want to use a clicker. This can be used at the same time as a treat is given. Your puppy will associate the click with a reward and will respond as if she is receiving a treat. It will make it easier to wean her off using food all the time.

You will be training your puppy on her next walk, so grab your leash, harness, and poop bags, then let’s go!

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The Stop Method

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1

Offending behavior

Begin your walk as you would normally and wait until she pulls on the leash.

2

’Heel’ and stop

Once you feel that tug, stop in your tracks and issue the command ‘heel’ firmly. It’s likely that she will continue to try to scuffle away, but keep still, and hold tight. This is an important part of the process.

3

The return

Initially, it may seem like she doesn’t know what is going on. But eventually the confusion will cause her to come back to your side. If she doesn’t, then call her to you. You should be able to lessen how often you call her as she associates the stop with returning to you.

4

Reward

When she is back at your side, you can reward her with a treat. The positive association between the behavior and reward is important. Dogs do not respond well to punishment, which can cause them to exhibit anxious and aggressive behavior. Keep training a happy procedure and you will see a better response. You can also give verbal praise at this point.

5

Continue with walk

Carry on with your stroll. When she pulls again, repeat the method. Initially this could seem like you’re stopping every 30 seconds, but persevere. She will quickly pick up that staying by your side is the right thing to do.

The Treat Method

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Grab your treats

Grab a small handful of treats. The smellier the better, as this will be your lure to keep her by your side.

2

Begin your walk

As you walk, hold the treats down by your side where you want her to walk next to you. She should be able to smell the food and will linger next to you in order to stay close to the tasty snack.

3

Reward

After a short period of time, reward her with a treat for staying close to you. Verbal and physical praise affirms the positive response. Carry on walking.

4

Increase the distance

Gradually increase the distance between rewards. Eventually, you should get to a point where you only give one halfway through, and at the end. Soon, you’ll be able to complete the whole walk without pulling.

5

Walk without treats

Once the pulling stops, you can stop the treats! Verbal and physical praise at the end of a successful walk will help maintain the behavior even after the snacks are gone.

The U-Turn Method

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Begin your walk

You may want to use a harness for this method, as it requires pulling your puppy in the opposite direction which may hurt her if you just use a neck leash. There are no treats involved with this one, so begin your walk as normal!

2

Offending behavior

Walk until she pulls on the lead.

3

U-turn

Once you feel that tug, change direction abruptly and firmly state the command ‘heel’. Do not slow down, the move needs to be recognized as out of the ordinary. Continue walking until she pulls on the lead again.

4

Repeat

Firmly command ‘heel’, and change direction again. This may seem like a strange exercise initially, as you could be doing a lot of walking back and forth! But keep going. She will eventually realize that pulling does not result in getting her any further. She will not gain any reward from pulling. This is not punishing her for her behavior, it’s merely letting her know that no positive gains come from pulling.

5

Keep it up!

Maintain the ‘U-Turn’ method on every walk until she continues to walk by your side. This is a great method if you want to avoid using treats for training. It does require a little more effort on your part. Walking the same sidewalk again and again probably isn’t how you imagined taking your puppy out would go. But it is effective.

By Amy Caldwell

Published: 03/13/2018, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Harlow

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Belgian Malinois

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14 Weeks

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Question

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I can't seem to get her to heel even with trying the methods above. She also barks at people when walking. I know it's just inviting them to play but obviously this still isn't a good habit to have when we go walking

Nov. 24, 2020

Harlow's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Lexy, Check out the article I have linked below. I recommend the Turns method because the changes in direction combined with treat rewards can help some pups focus better. Also, know that this takes time and practice. It's normal for puppies to struggle with this at first. Start somewhere very calm since puppies are easily distracted. Reward even one second of being in the correct position, even if pup didn't realize they were doing it. Keep your energy enthusiastic and even a bit silly to help pup focus on you - most great puppy trainers look rather goofy because puppies love that usually. At first, you are mostly just trying to get pup to realize they should be next to you, to pay any attention to you even a little, and just to walk in a straight line (puppies tend to weave and bolt a lot at first). Small steps of progress are still progress. Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Also, check out the puppy class videos below. There you can see other's practicing heel and how the trainer uses their enthusiasm to help keep pup engaged. It may also help you feel better about how easily your pup is distracted, seeing that some of the pups there are as well. Puppy Class videos: Week 1, pt 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnhJGU2NO5k Week 1, pt 2: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-1-part-2-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 2, pt 1 https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-2-part-1-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 2, pt 2: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-2-part-2-home-jasper-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 3, pt 1: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-3-part-1-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 3, pt 2: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-3-part-2-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 4, pt 1: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-4-part-1-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 4, pt 2: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-4-part-2-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 5, pt 1: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-5-part-1-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 5, pt 2: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-5-part-2-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 6, pt 1: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-6-part-1-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 6, pt 2: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-6-part-2-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1-0 For the barking, work on teaching pup the Quiet command, and reward pup for stopping barking when told quiet and when they see someone and don't bark - carry small treats or pup's kibble with you on walks as rewards. Also, seek out a lot of opportunities to socialize pup with people. Instruct people to tell pup to do calm commands like Sit, and either toss a treat at pup's paws or feed under their chin (not holding the treat over their head or that causes jumping). You want pup to feel confident around people and for people to be such a common occurrence that they aren't a big deal for pup anymore. Quiet method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Nov. 25, 2020

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Lolo

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German Shepherd

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5 Years

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My dog won't heel and when I follow the steps ten times or more, she still won't do it, I stoped for at least 1 or 2 monthes and then went right back at it and she still didn;t do it, am I doing soemthing wrong?

May 21, 2019

Lolo's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Nickey, Since your dog is older I suggest using a different method. Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel The most important part of this method is to require him to walk with his head behind your leg. As soon as his muzzle starts to move past your leg, turn directly in front of him at a ninety degree angle, so that you are basically cutting him off. You want to convince him that you turn a lot and he had better pay attention to keep up with you. When you give treats, give them slightly behind your leg, not in front, so that he won't edge up in front to get treats. Practice this somewhere calm at first, like a cul-de-sac. Expect it to feel awkward at first until you both get more in sync. Expect this to take about 6-12 weeks to train, but you should see improvement within a week. It can take time to work up to other distractions though. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

May 22, 2019


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